Gedde Watanabe Says He Didn’t Consider His ‘Sixteen Candles’ Character ‘Long Duk Dong’ Racist When Filming: ‘Isn’t That Weird?’

Gedde Watanabe has enjoyed a lengthy career in Hollywood. The actor’s big break was the 1984 film “Sixteen Candles,” in which he played foreign exchange student “Long Duk Dong.” While Watanabe’s line “What’s happenin’, hot stuff?” is still often quoted, the character himself relied on a lot of racist stereotypes, including his name — something Watanabe now says he didn’t see at the time.

“Frankly I was like, this is a good job, and I’m going to get paid more doing one week in this movie that I did [than] for all the years I was in the theater,” the actor told People. “It didn’t really occur to me that it was a stereotype, because there wasn’t really anything out there for Asian actors at the time. It was just so scarce. So I didn’t think it was stereotypical or racist. Isn’t that weird?”

Watanabe did admit that it was clear some parts of the dialogue were racist. “I remember the movie using the word ‘Chinaman,’ and even then I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not great.’ But you also have to remember in that period of time, people still had to be educated about parameters, what the alarm bells were when it came to being offensive,” he added.

The actor also said that he got so deeply into character that once he adopted Dong’s thick accent, he used it all the time — so much so that when he broke character at the film’s table read, director John Hughes “burst out laughing” when he heard Watanabe’s real voice.

Watanabe reflected on how acting opportunities for Asian and Asian American actors have changed over the years. “In the ’80s, my career was playing a lot of foreign people from other countries,” he said. “As I got older that tipped away, which I’m thankful for, but the ’80s were a hard time for Asian American actors, AAPI people, there wasn’t a lot out there.”

“There was no real support to guide me about the fine line between being a goof in comedy and what’s stereotypical and what’s offensive now,” he added.

The romantic comedy also starred Molly Ringwald, Michael Schoeffling and Anthony Michael Hall. It was the first of several movies about American teenage life that Hughes would direct.

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